re-birth of Talaingod
Text and photos by Gina Mission
One of three classrooms in Talaingod
The road sign said we were
entering the town of Kapalong. Our guide, however, assured us that we were in Talaingod -
technically, and with everybodys consent.
___Talaingod is a neophyte in the League of
Municipalities, having been officially proclaimed as one only in 1991, through Executive
Order 7180. Its three-term mayor, Jose Libayao, claims there are about 200,000 indigenous
peoples (IPs) living in the 65,000-hectare municipal area composed of three barangays.
These figures, however, are "negotiable," like the towns income, depending
on who the mayor is talking to.
Jose Libayao, Talaingod's three-term mayor
___How Talaingod, which
means "Gods chosen people," became tangled into a string of white lies, is
a story that Libayao likes to tell.
___"I was the tribal
chieftain of Kapalong then, working with Manuel Elizalde of the former Presidential
Assistance for National Minorities (Panamin)," Libayao recalled. But during the 1997
local elections, Libayao filed his candidacy for mayor of Kapalong. "They asked me
why I was running when I was already the tribal chieftain. I told them that I wanted to
focus my services on the indigenous peoples (IP) of Talaingod."
Talaingod schoolchildren: "God's chosen people"
___Afraid that the IPs
might actually topple them from power, Libayao relates that "some politicians from
Davao del Norte" approached him and offered to make Talaingod a municipality so he
could file his candidacy there, and leave Kapalong politics alone. Since most of the IPs
in Kapalong live in Talaingod, Libayao agreed.
___But there were some
technical problems. Talaingod did not meet the required population for a chartered
municipality. Nor did it meet the required income. Elizalde and Paul Dominguez, who was
then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, looked for solutions. Consequently, Talaingod
"borrowed" three barangays from Kapalong. Alcantara and Sons, a logging
concessionaire in Kapalong, offered to pay its taxes in Talaingod (it was paying taxes in
Kapalong). In July 1991, Talaingod became a town.
___The story of the making
of Talaingod, however, is not without the bitter taste of lifes harsh realities.
___"For the whole time
we were under Kapalong, there was hardly any development project that reached the people
of Talaingod," recalled Libayao. The explanation, he said, is as simple as parents
protecting the interests of their children. "We are IPs and those in power were
Christians. Naturally, they would accommodate their own kind first; never mind the
IPs," the mayor told CyberDyaryo.
___Unmindful of the legal
implications the political sleight of hand would cost them, Libayao reasoned that the town
could have never become what it is today if the people behind its creation had been
totally up front about everything. "Sometimes you have to make up stories to liberate
your people. I believe it was a better decision," he said.
___Even Onik Andaya, who
does not know how old she is, does not mind that her town was conceived in lies.
"Before, there was nowhere we could go to for medical assistance. Now, all we have to
do is come here and tell them our problems," she said, referring to the municipal
hall where the towns political and economic activities are centralized.
Ageless Talaingod women: Onik Andaya and Layna Anlungay (with
___Located 89 kilometers
north of Davao City, Talaingod boasts of rich natural resources. It has 6,000 hectares of
virgin forest. Its Municipal Development Council has identified areas suitable for rubber,
pineapple and abaca plantations, and upland rice and corn farming. It hosts the 500-ft.
Nabantalan Cave, the 500-ft. Mt. Masimalon, the 60-meter Kalapatan Falls, and the
seven-hectare Kilomayon Lake.
___But the living
conditions of the Talaingod people are a stark contrast to its rich natural resources. The
cluster of houses visible from the municipal hall built on a mountain top around
900 feet above sea level are makeshift huts made of bamboo and cogon grass.
According to the municipal administrator, Gerardo Roben, Jr., an average of eight family
members, are crammed in each household. About 75 per cent of the people are engaged in
slash-and-burn farming. An elementary school, another makeshift structure, serves more
than 400 elementary students from around the municipal center. Lacking the necessary
rooms, pupils from two different grades occupy the same classroom. Every now and then, the
students are absent from class because, said Roben, "they dont have food to
___The peace and order
situation and the seeming lack of vision of the leaders of the place left Talaingods
rich natural resources untapped for a long time and the people lived under miserable
conditions. Libayao admitted that, prior to 1991, Talaingod, was a "training
ground" for the New Peoples Army (NPA). Children as young as 12 years old were
carrying guns and joining the NPA. The IPs, he said, were vulnerable to the recruitment
campaigns of the NPA when they could not see any plans for them from the government.
"Disillusioned" is how the mayor described the people of Talaingod then.
anymore," the mayor declared. For eight years, both government officials and
constituents have worked together to build what they now call the "new
Talaingod." They might not be as successful as they want to be which, as
Libayao said, is understandable, given the limited capability of the town and its people
but they are consoled by the fact that they are now making their own decisions. In
the words of Layna Anlungay, another woman who doesnt know her age, "What
Talaingod is now is what we have worked it up to be. We are building our own future."
___In the eight years since
Talaingod become a town, it has risen from a sixth class municipality earning an income of
P250,000 and receiving an internal revenue allocation (IRA) of P6 M , to a fourth class
one with an annual income of P500,000 and an IRA of P18 M in 1995. In the year 2000,
Talaingod is bent on rising to a third or second class municipality, which, as the mayor
said, is not impossible, now that they have entered into a partnership with the
Multi-Equipment and Consultancy Services, Inc. (MECS).
___MECS is a consultancy
firm that makes master plans for socio-economic development for municipalities. The idea
is to provide municipalities planning services for development that are consistent with
sustainability, and the preservation of the environment and indigenous culture. In the
case of Talaingod, development will be in two forms: economic development and personal and
will take the form of developing agro-industry and tourism, since Talaingod has rich
natural resources. Social upliftment will be in the form of literacy and health
enhancement programs. All these, the mayor said, are aimed at giving the people of
Talaingod the chance to improve their lives by making use of what is available around them
in a way that will improve their lives and sustain the environment at the same time.
"self-determination" may sound as alien to the people of Talaingod as knowing
ones age, but they are surely going in that direction.